July Write-O-Rama 9: Event Gravity

My father called me Saturday evening to let me know the toilet in the master bedroom would not shut off and that the knob on the supply line was stuck or possibly even seized in place so he couldn’t turn off the toilet. I said not to worry. There is another toilet in the house and this one is rarely used. Just rig the handle to stop the water and I will fix it next time I am down, either today or tomorrow.

We talked about how long ago it had been since I last fixed replaced the toilet guts and we’re thinking at least fifteen years or maybe just a little more recently. However, I have zero memory of actually doing it. I do remember taking the shelf that fits in around the toilet out of the bathroom so I would have more room. I remember asking my parents not to stand around in the bedroom so I could just do the work unsupervised. That always used to drive me nuts. And I remember putting the shelf back when I was done. However, none of the actual toilet repair remains in my memory.

This reminds me of another occurrence of the same sort of memory lapse that popped up recently and I probably wrote about it here or talked about it on the podcast. I’m too lazy to research it but I’m sure I shared it somewhere. I recently saw myself on a videotape from 1991 with absolutely no memory of being at the event (a high school football game) where I was videotaped. I even talk directly to the person holding the camera a few times yet the whole night is gone from my mind. I was surprised when he zoomed in on me standing on the track during the performance. I was there? Where did all of these memories go?

It’s like I don’t even know myself. I wonder what else has slipped away or is it perfectly normal to forget days like these, returning to high school the year after graduation or fixing a toilet. Do the big things in life blot out the small things so we lose the day to day and along with it a sense of who we were? How can I reconcile who I am now if I can’t remember a lot of the details of who I was to begin with?

My mind is filled with mundane facts. I can tell you a lot about music from the 80’s. I know a lot about our different computer setups at work. But if I think of a random year, say 1993, there is not a whole lot I can tell you specific about it. I can even look at pictures and have them not jog specific memories. Well, look at me at the beach in 1993! Who would have thought it!

Does all of this mean I am losing my mind? I hope not. I think it’s best to not be burdened with a lot of the details from the past as they pile up more and more with each passing day.

I know that when I think back to the toilet repair, my mother was there and she has been gone for a little over four years and really was not herself the final year of her life either and the years and then final months of her illness and decline seem to overshadow the better memories because they were the most recent memories and they were relentless, tough years. I recently saw a picture that reminded me how I spent my birthday at the emergency room with my mother in 2013 and she kept apologizing for ruining my birthday and this was before things got really bad.

Having our focus distorted by the last few years or months of bad things reminded me of a quote I shared on the blog back in 2017 from Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky. The quote is about suicide which I unfortunately have experience with also but I think it could also apply to situations like my mother’s cancer if you swapped out the word suicide with the words terminal illness:

Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction.

There is a lot of truth in that quote for me. It resonates because I find myself looking back at the memory of my mother through the fog of those last, terrible months and as bad as they were for me, they were much worse for her. It seemed incredibly unfair and out of control and keeping going through it took a mental and physical toll on me that I still deal with today and most likely will until the end of my life.

Loss never really goes away. You fill the void the best you can and you learn to live with it. At the end of this month, Stacey will be gone for thirty years. I wrote about that here ten years ago and it’s almost surprising to me that another decade has passed but I say almost surprising because it’s not really surprising at all. As you get older, I think you have to either have to develop an understanding about how quickly time seems to fly by or it will drive you nuts. 50 is out there for me, not far off and I’m at the point in life when I have been thinking more and more about what I would like to accomplish before possibilities and even abilities start to be lost.

Stacey’s suicide was a defining moment in my life. We were both so young back in the summer of 1990 and she has missed out on so much that I would not want to have missed out on. But with time, I stopped focusing on her final act and final hours. I returned to the end over and over for a long time but it’s so far back that now I just think of who she was and who she might have been. They say time heals but I think really that time just changes the way you look at things because time leaves you no choice. You are powerless against it and eventually you simply accept that fact. And eventually I will find the same reconciliation in what happened with my mother. At just over four years, little bits and pieces break through. The event gravity is losing its strength and more bits and pieces of the not as recent pass make it through all the time. I hope this process happens faster so I don’t completely lose memories that right now are just beyond the fog of the frustration and sadness of those last few months.

As I was finishing up this one, my wife came home from work during lunch break and said she had been calling and texting was afraid she would find me out in the floor. Nope, I just forgot to turn the ringer back on and am not wearing my Apple Watch today since I don’t care about notifications on my day off. I mention this to commemorate being at the age where it’s possible I might be out in the floor if I don’t answer my phone. I guess I’m not far off from having to buy a Life Alert!